Smartphone Review

Much to the amusement of many of my colleagues, it is 2019 and I have just got my first ever smartphone at the age of 48 and a bit. I want to talk about this.

Don’t worry. I’m not here to review a smartphone. I am here to review the concept of smartphones from the point of view of somebody who has not drifted along gradually accepting them as normal.

OK. So the smartphone in question is a Motorola G6 Play running Android, which is regarded as one of the better phones at the cheapskate end of the spectrum and, so far, it is perfectly fine. The battery life is surprisingly good. The screen is sharp enough that I can’t see why people are paying more for higher screen resolutions that just waste CPU power rendering things in more detail than the human eye can actually see. The speaker is quite loud enough without having that much hated “let’s annoy everybody within 250m” loudness to it. And that’s all I am going to say about the specific phone itself. It is not like I have anything to compare it with.

Although this is my first smartphone there was a lot about this experience that was instantly familiar. It was the experience that I call “Oh fuck. It’s a new computer that needs everything setting up on it.” Now, I am an IT Systems Administrator, so I’m used to all this computery shit (as we call it in the IT industry), but I was not looking for a busman’s holiday. What I got was exactly that.

  • Boot up. Silly noise. (“Hello Moto” it says in a particularly weird accent. Fortunately you can turn that off.)
  • Fight to get the thing on my Mum’s wifi. Apparently it doesn’t like spaces in the SSID name. Had to change the SSID on the router but then it worked. Had to tell all the other devices about the new SSID. Grrr.
  • Sign in to Google services. Teach the thing my fingerprint.
    Note to the future: If you receive an email purporting to be from me, seeking to verify itself with one and only one of my fingerprints, then this means that the phone has killed me and assumed my identity. Please do not give it any money!
  • Tell Outlook to piss off. I don’t want Outlook touching my mail. Why is Outlook even on this thing? Outlook is an MS Exchange client more than anything else. People who want to talk to an Exchange server can download it themselves.
  • Load updates to Android Oreo. Didn’t say how big but it took a while. Reboot.
  • Load more updates to Android Oreo. Didn’t say how big. Reboot.
  • Load even more updates to Android Oreo. Didn’t say how big. Reboot.
  • Load upgrade to Android Pie. Really??? Why the hell did we just waste all that time and bandwidth updating Oreo three times if it is going straight in the bin? It didn’t say how big Pie was but I saw it downloading over 900MB. Oh, great. This is chewing up more bandwidth than I expected on my Mum’s metered internet connection. If it had warned me how much it wanted to download I could have waited and done this somewhere else.
  • Final reboot. Well, at least it didn’t brick itself…

That is a very computer-like experience. If you ever bought a Windows or MacOS computer the rigmarole of loading a big update followed by an update to the update followed by an update to the update to the update will be annoyingly familiar. The size of the OS is comparable to a small desktop Linux distribution, which might seem reasonable given that Android is built on a Linux kernel, but this is an embedded OS FFS!

The big epiphany: A smartphone is not a big phone with apps on it. A smartphone a small computer with a phone app on it. It comes with all the joys and woes you might expect from, say, a MacOS system. Like it or not, anybody who owns one of these things is a sysadmin now.

So, how do you use this thing? I always hate having to learn a new GUI paradigm. (This is why all my Linux stuff runs Xfce with the bar moved to the bottom and set up to look and behave like Windows NT 4.0. I find it easier to bend each computer to an existing visual paradigm that I am used to than to learn how each one works by default and switch modes when I switch systems.) Of course, Android can’t do that so I had to get used to what the three cryptic icons at the bottom mean and how to use them. This was not explained in the manual, of course, because it is assumed that everybody already knows this stuff. Sure, it is not that hard but it wouldn’t kill them to put it in the manual.

The next step was to enable the datasaver options, disable the premium rate bullshit and turn off the annoying noises as much a possible. Some people are not happy unless their phone makes noises all the time. Maybe it makes them feel connected and wanted. I don’t want to hear a noise just because I got an email or something. Just tell me when anybody is actually trying to phone me.

Next I hit the Play Store and download some apps. I was hoping to replace the Google apps with their lower bandwidth Google Go equivalents but apparently that is not allowed in the UK. Twitter Lite was decent though and I fear that it will be taking up a lot of my time. I turn off even more unwanted noises in the apps. I get a new Twitter follower and it makes a noise like somebody just stamped on a small bird. Yep, disable that one! I put BBC News, iPlayer and Sounds on as well as Google Podcasts. It is good to be able to download stuff on wifi and then watch it without burning through the 4G data allowance. Unfortunately, YouTube says NO to this perfectly sensible idea! Even worse, it is quite clear that the YouTube app can download for offline viewing but it won’t do it in the UK unless you pay £13 per month. Yeah. £13! That’s obviously not going to happen. I watch a lot of YouTube, and I might pay for this, at a sensible price. So would almost anybody, at a sensible price. £13 though? £13 a year maybe, not per month!

Over the next few days I get to try out some free wifi. Southern Railway wifi is OK but some of the older trains seem not to have it and it bugs you to the T&Cs every damn time it connects. South West Railway wifi is good. It demands an email address to connect, which it says that it won’t use to send any emails. (Well, in that case they won’t mind that the address I gave them wasn’t real.) Safeguard Buses wifi came with a warning page saying not to stream video, do big downloads or generally take the piss, which seems fair enough given that it is a bus. It worked OK within those parameters. This is all decent.

So this is like any new computer. It starts off feeling alien but eventually you get used to the limitations and annoyances and work out how it fits into your life, by which I mean how to bend your life around it to some degree.

In all probability I will be run over crossing a road while reading some utter bollocks on Twitter. This is, of course, by far the classiest way to opt out of Brexit, and to break a 24 month phone contract, in one fell swoop.

The next fun thing is to port my old mobile number. Wish me luck…

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April 21, 2019. Daniel, IT, Sensible, Social Media.

3 Comments

  1. serederf replied:

    I still have yet to join the ranks of the smartphone-afflicted, I’m quite happy with my 9-year-old Samsung Blackberry ripoff. I might consider one that can run something more privacy-focused like LineageOS, but it’s hard to know how long support for a given phone will last.

  2. danielrigal replied:

    I thought I was the last one!

  3. serederf replied:

    No, there are a few born-again retro hipster types who are now consciously rejecting them, but I’ve never been happy about the amount of privacy you have to give up in order to use them. Besides, by the time I could afford one, I’d already accumulated separate MP3 players, GPS devices for car navigation, cameras etc. so there are very few (if any) use cases left that would justify owning one. I might be tempted by a Gemini, which at least has a proper keyboard and Linux distro: https://planetcom.squarespace.com

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